Articles - Deb > Review of "Mary Baker Eddy" by Gillian Gill


Review of Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill

Published in Journal of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion 5:1 (Spring 1999), 75-79.

Mary Baker Eddy, by Gillian Gill. Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998, Radcliffe Biography Series, ISBN 0-7382-0042-5. $35.00 hardback, 713 pp. plus xxxv pages.

In this book, the latest in the Radcliffe Biography Series, the author has done an admirable job of completing her basic task of shedding new light on her complicated and controversial subject. Gillian Gill, Ph.D., has notable past achievements as a biographer and translator. She received considerable cooperation from the Christian Science church and access to some documents that it has hitherto withheld from most scholars. This access, though still limited, has enabled Gill to reconcile some of the contradictory accounts of Eddy's life and work furnished by witnesses who were strongly biased for or against her. Gill has therefore managed to paint Eddy "warts and all" in a fair and balanced portrait, sympathetic yet frank about Eddy's shortcomings as well as her strengths. I found all 713 pages fascinating, including the notes!

That said, it is equally important to note that Gill's coverage of most of the New Thought figures connected with Eddy, beginning with Quimby, is remarkably inadequate and biased. She writes:

The ghost of Quimby stalked Mrs. Eddy unrelentingly, and it stalks her biographer to this day. At the beginning of my research, having read the large body of published debate on the Quimby question, I hoped to be able to send the gentleman back across the Lethe in short order, but in fact I have been forced to give him room and entertainment in my text. Specifically, my research convinced me that all previous discussions of Quimby and his writings are not only shaped predominately by politics and self-interest but are also both inaccurate and misleading since they fail to . . . . take into account the Quimby collection at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University . . . . (138)

Gill speaks favorably of Ervin Seale, the New Thoughter who was responsible for the publishing of the complete Quimby writings, but makes no mention of the work of Seale's associates, one of whom, Alan Anderson, arranged for the papers to be housed at Boston University after he completed his doctoral dissertation on New Thought historian Horatio Dresser at that institution.

Gill states (312) that Julius and Annetta Dresser had only one son, Horatio, unaware of the existence of Horatio's three younger brothers, one of whom became well known as psychologist David Seabury (using his mother's maiden name). This is a minor error, but does nothing to reassure the reader of the thoroughness of her scholarship in areas where her own bias is reflected.

A more serious omission comes in connection with a letter from Quimby's widow to Julius Dresser in which Mrs. Quimby mentions that Quimby did not encourage Eddy to teach his methods or speak on his behalf. Mrs. Quimby also indicates that Eddy "does not always adhere closely to the truth." Gill comments,

Mrs. Patterson was obviously not at all Mrs. Quimby's cup of tea. Perhaps the devoted wife's nose was out of joint because "Park" Quimby had liked Mrs. Patterson a little too much and had spent a little too much time closeted with her. (136)

Yet the letter makes clear that it was Quimby himself who did not trust Mrs. Patterson. The other comments are Gill's unwarranted assumptions, based on some comments by other biased witnesses who claimed that Quimby had sexually harassed patients. Furthermore, Gill refers to this letter as "unpublished and, I believe, hitherto unnoticed," despite the fact that Anderson included it in an appendix to an expanded version of his doctoral dissertation published as Healing Hypotheses by Garland Publishing in 1993. Anderson also included parts of the letter in a talk given on July 20, 1996, and later published in JSSMR 3:1 (also available at

But the most flagrant scholarly failure comes in Gill's treatment of the 1904 New York Times "Deadly Parallels" between Quimby's writings known as "Questions and Answers" and shared with a number of his patients, and Eddy's Science and Health. Eddy, like other Quimby patients, had her own copy of the Questions and Answers, to which she added an introductory paragraph of her own. She made them available to her own students under the title "Science of Man." At first, she attributed them to Quimby, but gradually, she began to claim Quimby's ideas as her own. Horatio Dresser outlines all this in the second edition of The Quimby Manuscripts, which was made necessary when the Christian Science Church threatened legal action against Dresser for including letters from Mrs. Eddy in his first edition. For the second edition, published in the same year as the first (1921), Dresser substituted a descriptive chapter tracing this history of "Questions and Answers," the "Deadly Parallels," and the Eddy paragraph. Yet Gill distorts this: "Mrs. Eddy's own words were integrated into the Quimby text, compared against her own manuscript, found, not surprisingly, identical, and cited as a flagrant example of plagiarism." But the Times 1904 article, "True Origin of Christian Science," states,

The charge made by Mr. Wentworth and based on this manuscript and on the statements made by Mrs. Eddy in Stoughton is not that the exact language of Quimby is reproduced verbatim in "Science and Health." Mrs. Eddy's language is presumably her own. The charge is that she did not discover "Christian Science" in 1866; that Quimby, and not God, revealed it to her; and that her statements to the contrary are flatly contradicted by her own statements in Stoughton, made after the date when she says the "final revelation" was made to her. (The New York Times, July 10, 1904)

Gill, apparently unaware of her own error in interpreting the Times article as claiming plagiarism, tries to blame Dresser:

Horatio Dresser was responsible for seeing that this sleight of hand remained unchallenged for another generation. . . . His decision was to fudge the issue, to print the text as it had been previously quoted in all the anti-Eddy works, but with a modest note to say that he had appended the final, the crucial, paragraph--from where, and why, he declines to specify. (232)

Seemingly, Gill did not bother to check the second edition of The Quimby Manuscripts, where Dresser states,

Mrs. Eddy introduced a preface of her own which was later incorporated into the text, which in turn was put forth as Mrs. Eddy's (Mrs. Glover's) own during the period of her work in Lynn. Thus we have before us all the stages which led from entire fidelity to Quimby to the latter attitude as expressed in "Science and Health" after the first edition. Then, too, in the New York Times, July 10, 1904, portions of "Questions and Answers" were printed side by side with passages from "Science and Health," together with a facsimile showing emendations in Mrs. Eddy's copy of the manuscript in her own hand. The article in the Times was conclusive evidence regarding this important transition from "Questions and Answers" to "The Science of Man." All that was needed to make the textual history complete was the publication in full of "Questions and Answers" in the present volume. (162-63)

Space in this already too-long review does not permit me to go into Gill's patronizing attitude toward Quimby and his writings or her lack of familiarity with induction techniques used in clinical hypnosis today (some of Quimby's descriptions of his work with patients sound astoundingly similar to those of psychiatrist and master hypnotist Milton Erickson many decades later). There is a crying need for a New Thought scholar to research and write an exhaustive report correcting all the misimpressions left by Gill in her hatchet job on New Thought. Gill herself is guilty of the same errors of which she accuses Milmine and Cather, Bates and Dittemore, and other Eddy critics.

Deb Whitehouse

Editor, New Thought